Berlin Candidates 2018 – Round 1

The first round produced quite a lot of blood! Three decisive games, while the only draw saw a typical modern novelty on move 8.

The first game to finish was the American derby. With White Caruana went for the Catalan, a favourite opening of his opponent when he is White! And it all went so fast and somehow it appears that Caruana won effortlessly. So was playing on the queenside and Caruana mated him on the other side. A definite opening surprise by Caruana, but a very atypical breakdown by So who didn’t put any resistance. A strange game.

Then Kramnik beat Grischuk. The opening was telling, 3 b3 by Kramnik after 1 d4 Nf6 2 Nf3 g6.  Is this the reason he invited Giri, who is among the best theoreticians, to be his second? To play 3 b3? Maybe the point was to get Grischuk thinking from early on, but in fact both players were thinking from early on. Still, the game followed a scenario where things got sharp with Grischuk having less time than Kramnik and he misplayed it on move 22 when he got entangled with his pieces. Kramnik took his chance confidently.

The shortest game was the sharpest. Aronian played 8 h4 (it seems that in modern chess the move h4 is almost always good!) against Ding Liren’s English and soon followed it up with 11 Kf1. Too bad when things got sharp to the maximum he decided to repeat the moves. The engine gives him almost a decisive advantage, but the position was such a mess that it’s not surprising he didn’t want to risk this early on. But then again, will there be a better time to risk later on? With an early risk, even if it doesn’t pay off, you still have a whole tournament ahead to make it right. While if you wait for the last moment when you have no other option but to risk, the pressure may be too big. I think Aronian will be disappointed tonight when he sees that the engine gave him a huge advantage in the final position.

A very exciting game indeed!

Mamedyarov beat Karjakin with Black in a duel of the former second and his employee. They have probably looked at so much theory together so Mamedyarov surprised everybody with 3…g6 in the Spanish. The game was around balanced after mass early exchanges, but it was surprising to see Karjakin commit slight innaccuracies that rendered his position the more difficult to play. We’ve been so used to see him hold much more difficult positions that the one today; yet he didn’t manage against Mamedyarov’s consistent pressure. Black wins will be rare at this event, so this is definitely a huge boost for Mamedyarov!

Tomorrow Karjakin is Black against Kramnik. A lot of nuances at play here…

Alex Colovic
A professional player, coach and blogger. Grandmaster since 2013.
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